Friday, July 30, 2004

Blog appreciation and the Democratic Convention. I must admit, Boston "D" Party was a very creative name!
Ex-hostage describes yearlong ordeal: "Pointing to a rusty dog chain, a prosecutor asked American missionary Gracia Burnham if it was used to shackle her husband before he was killed in a bloody rescue attempt after a year of captivity in the jungle. ''I recognize that chain,'' Burnham testified softly Thursday at the trial of eight al-Qaida-linked guerrillas."
The Genius of America: "The theme of 'E pluribus unum,'—out of many, one—resonated throughout the Democratic National Convention keynote speech, delivered by 42-year-old African-American Illinois state Senator Barack Obama on July 27.

"His Kenyan economist father and his Kansan anthropologist mother gave him an African first name, which means, he explained, 'blessed by God' in Swahili. Obama, identified as a 'rising star' in the Democratic Party, drew on his own heritage to praise the diversity of the United States to the delegates.

"'There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America,' Obama said. 'There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.'"

"Obama's 'shared values' theme was intended to unite Americans behind the Democratic ticket. 'The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too,' Obama said, asserting, 'We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.'"
How many can pass the 'I'm blessed' inspection test?: "There he was, dealing with more-than-likely unhappy people, standing outside on a steamy July morning, and he felt blessed. I can't get the man out of my mind.

"Why does it seem the people who appear to have the worst jobs often seem to be the happiest?"

"I'm talking about the woman here at the newspaper whose job it is to clean the bathrooms. She's the happiest woman in the building. Always smiling. Always says hello. She just had an operation and is now back. Happy as ever.

The men who painted my house this summer were happy. I couldn't understand a word they were saying, but there they were in the hot sun, singing away. Lunch under the tree out front was even a festive affair, constant laughter floating up to my window.

"And why is it the people with the most seem the most unhappy?"

After teaching his disciples how to pray, He said to them, "Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you'?

"I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.

"So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

"If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him."
"Powering" the Wi-Fi at Capitol Hill: "In a bit of technological time travel, two vendors are using Wi-Fi and power line devices to bring broadband Internet access to the oldest parts of the nation's capitol."
The Most Important Thing Armstrong Left on the Moon: "Ringed by footprints, sitting in the moondust, lies a 2-foot wide panel studded with 100 mirrors pointing at Earth: the 'lunar laser ranging retroreflector array.' Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong put it there on July 21, 1969, about an hour before the end of their final moonwalk. Thirty-five years later, it's the only Apollo science experiment still running.

"University of Maryland physics professor Carroll Alley was the project's principal investigator during the Apollo years, and he follows its progress today. 'Using these mirrors,' explains Alley, 'we can 'ping' the moon with laser pulses and measure the Earth-moon distance very precisely. This is a wonderful way to learn about the moon's orbit and to test theories of gravity.'

Here's how it works: A laser pulse shoots out of a telescope on Earth, crosses the Earth-moon divide, and hits the array. Because the mirrors are 'corner-cube reflectors,' they send the pulse straight back where it came from. 'It's like hitting a ball into the corner of a squash court,' explains Alley. Back on Earth, telescopes intercept the returning pulse—'usually just a single photon,' he marvels.

"The round-trip travel time pinpoints the moon's distance with staggering precision: better than a few centimeters out of 385,000 km, typically."
The 2004 Perseid Meteor Shower: "The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming, and forecasters say it could be unusually good.

"The shower begins, gently, in mid-July when Earth enters the outskirts of a cloud of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. Dust-sized meteoroids hitting the atmosphere will streak across the night sky, at first only a sprinkling, just a few each night, but the rate will build.

"By August 12th when the shower peaks, sky watchers can expect to see dozens, possibly even hundreds, of meteors per hour."

"The best time to look for these 'traditional Perseids' is during the hours before dawn on Thursday, August 12th. Set your alarm for 2 o'clock in the morning; go outside; lie down on a sleeping bag with your toes pointed northeast. You'll soon see meteors racing along the Milky Way."

"Can't wake up at 2 a.m.? Try looking around 9 or 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 11th when Perseus is hanging low in the eastern sky. You won't see many meteors then, but the ones you do see could be memorable. Shooting stars that emerge from the horizon and streak horizontally through the atmosphere are called 'Earthgrazers.' Slow and colorful Earthgrazers are a good target for city dwellers, because they are so bright."

"Enjoy the show. Perseids are harmless … and beautiful. This is an unusually good year to see for yourself."
There's a Blue Moon tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

From the 9/11 Commission Report: al Qaeda: America should abandon the Middle East, convert to Islam, and end the immorality and godlessness of its society and culture: “It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind.” If the United States did not comply, it would be at war with the Islamic nation, a nation that al Qaeda’s leaders said “desires death more than you desire life.” (pages 51-52)

Friday, July 23, 2004

Hadley Arkes on John Kerry, Mitt Romney, and Gay Marriage on National Review Online: "The Senate is bracing now for a vote on a constitutional amendment on marriage. Behind closed doors, the Republican leadership, including several chairmen and supposed conservative stalwarts, have reportedly expressed their resentment that they should be made to vote on an issue so vexing, so quick to release poisons into the political air. In the reaction of the Senate leadership we get a measure of the true state of the conservative political class in America—their want of confidence in making their own arguments and standing ground in the face of assaults from the media. (They bring to mind the line of the first Mayor Daley: 'I have been vilified, I have been crucified, I have been...criticized!') And yet, there is one person in the Senate who is never tagged with the least bit of responsibility for this straining business, or held to answer for the introduction of marriage as a dramatic, unsettling issue this political season.

"The issue, after all, was the gift of Massachusetts—or rather of four judges, backed with all of the passion of liberal Democrats in that state, who wished to lead the nation to the next rights frontier. John Kerry is now the preeminent Democrat in Massachusetts. Clearly he did not welcome this issue as an intrusion into the presidential campaign, but the decision was brought forth by his friends, and it is his party that houses those most passionate in their commitment to the rightness of same-sex marriage. Whether he likes it or not, John Kerry owns this issue. He will soon be the head of the Democratic party, and it is entirely apt that he be pressed to explain the position he has embroidered in his typical style—with nuances, inventive and implausible, covering brute facts.

"As everyone understands by now, a Kerry 'explanation' is not always easy to follow. And here especially, with a matter so contentious, Kerry has sought to placate both sides with a stylish straddle. The undoing of that straddle, or the unraveling of his argument, would be fine political theater in itself. But as it is undone, it also reveals the strongest case for the constitutional amendment on marriage."
Commandments monument to go across country: "The Ten Commandments monument will be moved out of Alabama's judicial building Monday by a veterans group that plans to tour the country with it on a flatbed truck.

"Roy Moore, the owner of the 5,280-pound block of inscribed granite, agreed to let the American Veterans Standing for God and Country carry it through several states over the next few months for what is being billed as a series of 'God Bless America' rallies.

"Moore and the president of the veterans group, Jim Cabaniss of Houston, signed the agreement this week."

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Members only: "The Bohemian Club, a beguiling mix of ultra-power hangout and high school play, is one of several elite private clubs in San Francisco, curious islands of conservatism amid a forest of Kerry for President signs.

"Of these, the Big Four are the Bohemian Club, the stodgy Pacific-Union Club atop Nob Hill, the gigantic sports-minded Olympic Club, and the tiny ultra-exclusive San Francisco Golf Club straddling the line between San Francisco and Daly City.

"Two admit women. Two do not. One admits women in town, but not in the country—and not after dark."

"The Pacific-Union's prohibitions have been characterized, said Merla Zellerbach, as 'no women, no Democrats, no reporters.'"

"The San Francisco Golf Club is so shy, Debenham said, it won't give out directions. 'Even members get lost trying to find the place.'

"Notice to lost members: You can find those undulating greens and gingerbready clubhouse behind those unnaturally tall eucalyptus trees in back of the 'John Daly Blvd' freeway sign on I-280 just past San Francisco State. Slow at the sign for Thomas Moore Church and drive past the discreetly blocking shrubbery until you see the small sign: 'SF Golf Club, Private.'

"This club wishes to continue to fly way, way under the radar. Calls were not returned. So our information has not been confirmed or denied by anybody representing the club."

"Those who are clubbable find themselves strolling past faces any American would recognize. 'Never mind just plain CEOs and presidents,' Hoffman said, 'they have president presidents'—such as former President George H.W. Bush, who has brought his sons."

The Grove, with "its powerful members pledged to secrecy, provides an ideal audience on which to test a major policy address. 'Every elected official knows there's no place more conducive to the conduct of political affairs than a gathering that has been declared nonpolitical,' he said."

"Nelson Rockefeller gave up a run for the presidency after his speech failed to move his fellow campers. And this is where, according to van der Zee and many other published sources, Bush asked Cheney to be his running mate in 2000, where Nixon advised Ronald Reagan to stay out of the coming presidential race in 1967, where Edward Teller and others in the Manhattan Project mapped out the atomic bomb in the autumn of 1942."

"The club would like all this secret stuff to stay secret, which means that the curious are always breaking in (Mother Jones, National Public Radio, the Los Angeles Times, CBS). Media CEOs have had to interrupt their conversations to throw out their own reporters."

"It is called 'social' because business is the last thing on anyone's mind at this club to which hundreds of CEOs and former government officials belong. 'Oh, please,' Debenham said. 'The contacts are amazing.'"

"'It's that Masonic thing, the touching of the ring. Goes back to before the Crusades. The men feel safer without women. It's the same thing in a way when women get together. First it's jolly and then gets weird. Clannish.'"
How we remember speaks to who we are: "It may seem obvious to say that memorials are for the living, not for the dead. But it bears repeating, a reminder of all the purposes behind our urge to memorialize."

"We often say, as we do so prominently at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, that we must never forget. But sometimes we build memorials to do just that. A kind of debt paid, as historian David Glassberg puts it, so that we can move on.

"We seek immortality through memorials, but not necessarily for those whom you might think. The Greek temple from which Abraham Lincoln presides over the National Mall is a statement by the generation that produced it—that they themselves did not forget. The World War II Memorial just opened at the other end of Lincoln's Reflecting Pool does the same.

"'It almost becomes like an obligation that had to be fulfilled,' says Glassberg, author of 'Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life.' 'There is the feeling that somehow or another, if we didn't, we would be shamed.'"

"News coverage has propagated the notion that the World War II Memorial is late. In fact, it's right on schedule. Agitation to commemorate wars tends to come about 50 years after they end. Lincoln's temple wasn't dedicated until 1922, or 57 years after he was assassinated.

"The best memorials, in fact, require time. 'There needs to be time passed to let people debate what the meaning was,' says Kenneth Foote, author of 'Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy,' a study that raised questions about why some sites were memorialized and others were not. Foote found it was not unusual for debate to last a generation or more.

"The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, appearing in 1982, was an aberration, an attempt to ameliorate the lingering pain of that unpopular war — to separate, as the National Park Service says, 'the sacrifices of the veterans from the U.S. policy in the war.' That's why it's a 'veterans' and not a 'war' memorial."

"Washington, D.C., is a city of memorials — especially war memorials. Civil War figures from the victorious Union forces dominate public spaces. They are familiar sights, but do they carry forward the message of their age?

"'Not far from the White House, Admiral Farragut stepped onto a pedestal in 1881, but he is all that's left of that time in the square that still bears his name,' Thomas Mallon noted in a 2001 essay for the Save America's Treasures project. David Farragut's famous exhortation to 'Damn the torpedoes!' survives from the Union victory at Mobile Bay. But how many passersby connect the man on the pedestal to those words?

"The Austrian critic Robert Musil said in 1936 that there is something about memorials that repels our attention—meaning, Glassberg explains, that these things are left over from a previous time, and are almost immediately obsolete.

"Glassberg disagrees. 'I think a memorial remains meaningful if it's reinterpreted by each generation,' he says. Martin Luther King Jr. did that with his 'I Have a Dream' speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

"Arguments over meaning, in Glassberg's view, are what keep memory alive—more so than the monuments we build. 'That,' he says, 'is probably a more valuable piece of work for society to do.'"

Monday, July 5, 2004

Microsoft's attempt to be like Google.
Kerry Invoking 'Values' Theme to Frame Issues: "Last Saturday, Mr. Kerry used the V-word no fewer than eight times in a 36-minute speech to Hispanic leaders and next Wednesday he is scheduled to give a speech on his 'plan to restore America's values to the White House.'

"It sounds the same whether he is discussing the minimum wage or immigration, foreign policy or his own biography: Senator Kerry is increasingly adopting a traditionally Republican refrain to give his campaign—and himself—grounding and context in broad moral terms."

"Mr. Kerry also occasionally invokes God, either when talking about his own recovery from prostate cancer or to say 'God bless' soldiers, for example. But the focus on values may be less an appeal to the religious right, a constituency seen as a critical part of Mr. Bush's coalition, than outreach to what Democratic strategists call 'secular values voters'—people concerned about balancing work and family, opportunities for their children, and America's leadership in the world."
'Hate crimes' bill: Prescription for tyranny: "In a media- and dollar-driven situation, your grandmother's mugging will not receive as much attention as the 'hate crime' committed against a homosexual. Both victims deserve the full protection of the law, but the one that snags the headlines will get more of it."

"Homosexual activists have redefined any opposition to homosexuality as 'hate speech.' Laws already criminalize speech that incites violence. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which any incident involving a homosexual can be blamed on people who have publicly opposed homosexual activism."

"In Canada and Sweden, it is now a 'hate crime' to criticize homosexuality in any fashion. Canadian broadcasters are forbidden to air any critical discussion of homosexuality. Private citizens and public officials have been hauled before 'human rights' commissions and threatened with fines and jail time. In Sweden, a pastor was arrested at his church after he read Bible verses about homosexuality."
Remote Control Anarchy: "The six remote controls required for a simple home theater illustrate the problems caused by complexity and inconsistency in user interfaces."

"Users would never accept a consumer electronics product that wouldn't let them run a standard cable from one box to another to transfer the video or audio signals. In today's world, cognitive interoperability is just as important as technical interoperability. If it wants to sell more boxes, the consumer electronics industry needs to get its collective act together and create unified interaction design."
To fight Microsoft, Google arms itself with PhDs: "Hey, it's not rocket science. And it's not brain surgery. But if your background is in either, you're welcome to take a shot and apply at Google. The company's employees include a former rocket scientist and a former brain surgeon."

"With a PhD-centred culture, Google's co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have assembled the high-technology industry's most unorthodox portfolio of human capital since Microsoft Corp. began intense recruiting of computer science majors at top undergraduate schools in the 1980s.

"Microsoft has 56,000 employees, but its research group, with 700, is separate. Google has 1,900 employees, and no separate research group, so all 1,900, effectively, are charged to 'boldly go where no one has gone before' (Google's words)."

"Working in Google's favour is its practice of putting new PhDs to work immediately in the exact areas where they have been trained — in systems, architecture and artificial intelligence. Google, the company, may falter, but Google, the human resources experiment, is unlikely to be the cause.

"Microsoft has yet to disavow old templates for hiring. Its chief college recruiter, Roby, says that among computer science PhDs, 'it's less likely to find someone with the desire to work on projects that will ship every 24 or 36 months.'

"Her intention is to convey the fast pace of product-development cycles at Microsoft. But the notion that software is released at intervals measured in years, burned on a CD-ROM, stamped with a new version number and stuffed in a box, is as relevant to Google's continuous Web site improvements as a punch card."
Reagan's name has own fan club: "Hopes among members of Congress for a monument to Reagan on the National Mall face a formidable obstacle. In 1986, Congress delivered a bill to the White House barring any memorial to an individual from being built on the Mall until 25 years after the person's death. The bill was signed into law by Ronald Reagan."

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Washington, D.C., is a development hot spot, and looks like it will be for the rest of the decade. From corridors in Northeast slightly removed from the Capitol to the new location for the Capital Children's Museum and another development next door in Southwest.
Hadley Arkes on Reagan: "Let us simply repeal this lingering, vagrant effort to fine-tune the economy from Washington.

"Now that, I pointed out, was vintage Reagan: It involved a question of principle; its rightness could be judged on its own terms; and that rightness would not be affected in any way by the question of where interest rates would be next fall. I remarked then: Find the guy who threw that line into the speech, and have him serve up about a dozen more. And by the way, who did write that line? Oh that, said Tony, 'the President threw that in' while they had been working on the speech.

"Well, there we had it. As we used to say: Let Reagan be Reagan. His own paths of curiosity, his ways of reflecting about a problem, lingered with questions of principle, and he framed them in ways that were universally accessible."

Friday, July 2, 2004

RadioShack Starts VoIP Sales: "RadioShack, better known for its cables, batteries, home control equipment and taking your phone number, is ringing up some new business. The electronics retailer has begun offering broadband Internet net phone service (better known as VoIP) in nearly 4,000 of its stores across the country."